Friday, July 13, 2012

Simplicity Is Not Necessarily That Simple

Having written recently about ways to raise money for an adoption, I was also going through our house to find items to put in a yard sale for that very purpose.  My wife and I have already sold our china, crystal, and silver to a company that sells replacement patterns of old and new silver, china, and glassware.  There is a table that was my grandparents’ that I’ve already decided to put in the yard sale and I sort through my books, DVDs, and CDs (yes, I still have CDs and like to listen to CDs).  As I look through all that we have I find myself asking: What am I willing to let go of?

Moving from room to room in search of items for the yard sale, I inspect the room and ask if I either get use out of or enjoyment from a particular item.  William Morris said, “Have nothing in you houses that you don’t know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”  This can be hard for me because I like to collect things.  So, when I look for things to sell I have this inner debate that goes, “But you don’t use it.  Yeah, but I might.  But you don’t now.  True, but there might be a time when I will.”  While I’m not a hoarder by any stretch of the imagination, I recognize that argument as one that hoarders used when they are forced to clean their homes out. 

Living in the capitalistic West, I like so many others believe not in “less is more” but in “more is more.”  And even then, more is not enough.  Yet the Talmud tells us, “Who is rich?  He who rejoices in his portion.”  Do I rejoice in my portion or simply want for more?  Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” but, all too often, I don’t want my “daily bread” I want the whole bakery.  Simplifying is not my natural inclination.  I like to acquire, but is much of what I have empty abundance? 

When I’m in a room, do I even notice a particular object and would I miss it if it were gone?  If I admit the truth, more often than not, I could put many things in a yard sale and forget they ever existed.    

Certainly we don’t live in clutter and, by American standards, we don’t own a lot, but still I can’t help but think about how attached I am to things.  Recently I read Richard Rohr’s book Simplicity and in it he wrote about why people in the Third World are often happier than most people today.  He said, “They don’t need to constantly project their souls onto things, and so they can find it within themselves . . . The poor of the world do not have the luxury of assuming that external things will offer them fulfillment.  They don’t have access to them, so they have to find life at a deeper, immediate, and more simple level.”  In reading this, I realized how much I do attach deeper meaning to things that I own or want to buy.  I can easily think of a justification as to why I need to buy something and how it would help my life (although deep down I know that most of what I buy really won’t).

Rohr's statement was repeated by Katie Davis in her book Kisses From a Katie about how the poorest of the poor, who had little and lived in homes made of sticks and mud, slept on dirt floors "did not blame God or ask Him for more."  How different that is from my own prayer life.  She wrote how they simply "praised Jesus for keeping them alive" and "believed in His goodness."  In their poverty, the people "lived with love and passion, caring for one another . . . and deeply appreciating the simplest gifts life had to offer: the happy giggles of children, the smile and warm greeting of a friend, the beauty that surrounded them, a chance to work when possible, a helping hand when needed most."  How many of us view life that way?  How many of us are too blinded by all that we own or want to own?

All too often I see people who cannot see the world because their eyes are glued to their smart phones.  

Of course, with some things that I own, I view them not just as possessions.  Take the pottery I have: I view these objects as works of art that were made by an individual with their own hands.  I think about the time and craftsmanship that went into making a bowl or vase.  I also think about where and when I got those pieces, usually tied to a trip we’ve taken.  I really do take pleasure in looking at these items. 

With my books, I now sort through them and ask myself: Will I ever read this book again?  If the answer is a definitive no, I give them away or put them in a yard sale.  I also don’t buy books like I used to.  Unless it’s an author I love, I tend to check the book out from our local library.  I am taking to heart what Donald Horban wrote, “We don’t need to increase our goods nearly as much as we need to scale down our wants.  Not wanting something is as good as possessing it.”  Now this goes against the American system whereby we are constantly encouraged to be consumers.  But I can’t help wondering how much of this physical clutter Americans have are systemic to their spiritual clutter?  Not to mention all of the stress clutter causes people. 

How then can I live in a healthy simplicity?  It’s a struggle.  Simplicity is not simple.  Not for me anyway.  But right now I view each item and weigh it against the far greater value of bringing another child into our family.  Somehow, viewed in that light, it is much easier to let things go.      

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